I’m starting a multipart series on what are the biggest ways in which the world will be be different 20 years from now, with a key focus on how changes in the security fields will impact all of our lives.
When you ask most people what the groundbreaking “X-factors” of the future will be, they’ll say many wildly bold, exciting, and optimistic predictions of a future not far from us today. So far, answers to that question have ranged from technological leaps in machine automation, biotech, robotic swarms, and 3D printing; to social evolutions such as the conversion to all credit economies, an end to diseases, the post-scarcity, and new levels of international individual equality. Yet more promise better governance via more openness, and even a possible end to war through an even more interconnected world. Of course, others are going the other direction with predictions of diseases we haven’t yet discovered, or worse, haven’t yet invented. Some warn weapons too terrifying to detail. Others have echoed cautionary tales against the possible destruction of us all through climate change, energy crisis, nuclear devastation, and now to add to the list… radical religious fundamentalism.
As I examine the answers I wonder to myself what the odds of any one of these outcomes may be. Some seem well thought out, bringing in insights from brilliant minds. Some are simply ridiculous. I am left, however, with one surreal and terrifying truth… at least a few of them will be right. Some of these predictions, wild as they may be, will come true. The sad thing is, we aren’t really sure which ones. All we can be sure of, is that there will be change. Change, however it happens, is the one certainty among all this speculation.
Change will most certainly come, but it won’t come alone. After great change, there is always a period of disruption. Disruption is often used in Silicon Valley to symbolize the moment one company strikes it rich by finding an unknown vacuum to fill, a need to satiate, or dismantling an inefficient system. For many others, it is the fear that automation will leave them and millions of others out of a job and no hope to fill it. To some governments, disruption means a protest of thousands of angry and jobless people turning into a riot, or even a full blown rebellion. Disruption may be in the creation or destruction of entire industries, or as has been the case very recently, entire regimes. Most of the world has already experienced a decade pass where we feel less safe, less secure, and less sure that some catastrophic event won’t destroy our lives in the blink of an eye or the click of a mouse. Likewise, many millions have already felt the effects of change destabilize their nations with ramifications that will echo for years to come. Many of the other answers to this question have illustrated why, whether they intended to or not.
Consider a case study in change and disruption that was the Arab Spring of 2010. Then, new technology gave way to empowering the youth of several nations with information. A wave of democratic energy swept across the region. Caught in this wave were dictators over nations like Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and Syria. The world watched in amazement as millions upon millions flooded streets to demand change. To them, change indeed came. In several nations, reforms are taking root, and dictatorial regimes have been replaced, if not ousted entirely. Millions are indeed living freer lives.
At the same time, today there are three nations currently gripped in struggles of civil war, numerous uprisings already violently crushed, millions already killed, and many tens of millions of people displaced from their homes both nearby and across the world. Worse yet, chaos and anarchy in the region formed in the void of power that once existed under the despots who ruled there. In that void grew medieval death cults bent on absolute devastation and the full scale disruption of the Western world, for no other reason than that the West needed to be disrupted. Today, news of the Middle East centers only on one word – Chaos.
This isn’t to say that change is necessarily a bad thing, nor even that the disruption that change brings is evil in itself. It is just acknowledging that change happens, and that where change occurs, not far behind it, disruption is sure to follow. Finally, where disruption takes place, as we have seen in Middle East, instability is sure to follow, as well. It is this instability that leads to the crises which we hear about daily, and this instability that creates an ever widening gulf between where are today and the world we envisioned for it twenty years ago. Furthermore, as we experience yet more change, the kinds of technological, social, and political changes highlighted over and over throughout this question, instability will build upon itself, sometimes making way for progress and improvements, but other times, most of the time, preparing the ground for the kinds of horrors that only come from the vacuum where order once existed. It is in these environments desperation happens, and the kind of dangerous actions take place which only further dismantle everything. We see a model of this in Syria, where a desperate leader does unspeakable things to his people, to stop rebels and religious fanatics, all empowered by modern technology, both military and civilian. From the chaos of that nation we have seen yet more chaos spread far beyond when millions fled to Europe, bringing with them terror hidden as one of the refugees.
For this reason, the real “X factor” won’t be any one technology or suite of technologies. It won’t be an idea or a revolutionary act of governance, nor will be the culmination of one single ideological movement. The real “X factor” will be how we deal with all of these changes that are sure to come. How do we deal with change which could come from any source, at any time? How can we continue our operations when others fall into chaos? How do we guarantee safety when we have no guarantees on what tomorrow will look like? The world will change, but it will be the people who can adapt to that change that will survive it the best. Those people are going to be the ones who protect themselves, their communities, and their assets. As others fail and a little bit more chaos is built, these groups and individuals will be those who provide the long term stability needed and become anchors in ever changing worlds. For that reason, the true “X-factor” in the future will be the force, in all its forms, that allows the most positive change for the greatest numbers of people, while preventing the kinds of negative change that pulls us all a little bit closer to the abyss.
The factor, is security.
But wait, security isn’t something that is “possible.” It is everywhere around us already. While I would agree, this answer will seek to explain just how good our security needs to be in the future, and how it has failed us today. More so than this, I want to show all the needs we have for security already, and how improbable it is that we will live in perfect peace in the next twenty years. Internationally, 2015 saw a surge in terrorism born from conflicts in the Middle East. Attacks in Paris, one at the beginning and again the end of the year, along with another in California, woke many in the West to the present threat that exists when terrorists inspired by jihad overseas are brewed at home. The year also saw tens, perhaps hundreds of thousands of individuals hacked in some of the largest information attacks in history. Going beyond this, privately operated drones are now being empowered not only to deliver mail to our doorstep, but to look right in on our lives, as well. What this means for today is a desperate scramble to attempt to find a new normal which we can all feel a sense of peace. What it will mean in the next twenty years is a complete change in the way we see the security industry, and scale which we deal with it in our daily lives.
The rest of this series will be dedicated to listing some of the ways the security industry will need change, and how those changes will affect off all of us. Perhaps more than the question asked, this answer will leave you realizing one truth. Anyone can handle when something goes right, and some new technology makes your life better, but who is going to be left when everything goes to Hell?